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Marion Elementary honors veterans

| Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, 9:27 a.m.
Submitted photo
Guest of honor SSgt. Juan F. Macias, 49, of the Pa. Army National Guard, speaks to kindergarteners and first graders at Marion Elementary School's 5th annual Veteran's Day program on Thursday, November 7, 2013. Marion Elementary is in the Belle Vernon Area School District.
SSgt. Juan F. Macias, 49, of the Pa. Army National Guard, poses with the armored Humvee he brought for kindergarten and first graders to explore during Marion Elementary School's 5th annual Veteran's Day program on Thursday, November 7, 2013. Marion Elementary is in the Belle Vernon Area School District.
Submitted photo
Marion Elementary Principal, Dr. Michele Dowell, shows a plaque for the school's Veterans' Garden made by teacher, Randy Kozura. She is flanked by members of the Mid-Mon Valley Shipmates, Sam Levy, Barry Anders, Marsh Lignian, George Essey, George Diehl, and Patrick J. Maloy on Thursday, November 7, 2013.

As veterans walked through Marion Elementary on their way to the gymnasium for a Veterans Day assembly, they were greeted by students cheering and waving their hand-crafted American flags.

Some of the veterans waved, some nodded and some even shed tears.

For the past five years, this type of reception has drawn veterans to the Belle Vernon Area School District site for a celebration of their service to the nation.

“This is our opportunity to show the kids the sacrifices of the veterans,” said Kathy Forte, who handles special programs with the Marion Elementary PTA. “Some of these men and women served during wartime, some peacetime and in other ways.

“It's important that we recognize what (the veterans have) done. ... This is our way of reaching out to them and show them what it means and why we should be thankful.”

Two assemblies took place Thursday. The first was for kindergarten and first grade students.

The guest of honor was Pennsylvania National Guard Staff Sgt. Juan Macias, 49. He is the squad leader in a reconnaissance platoon and a full-time career counselor.

“It's great to see the innocence of the kids and show what soldiers are fighting for,” Macias said. “The kids are great and were eager to share their feelings and their support.

“There's nothing like being a soldier overseas and receiving gifts from kids in the mail. They don't know you, but through the items you receive you see that they support you. Whether it's drawings or letters ... soldiers love getting those items.”

A father of four, Macias told the children the kinds of things soldiers eat and how they have to dress. He even brought along an armored Humvee vehicle.

“It's pretty awesome just to get the reception that I got today,” Macias said. “The kids were really great.”

A second assembly for grades two through six featured the Mid-Mon Valley Shipmates, who discussed the history of the American flag and the Flag Code.

A number of veterans attended.

“I think it all started with Mr. (Stephen) Russell,” Forte said of the former BVA teacher, principal and superintendent. “He really instilled these values in us when I was a student of his. Everyone has someone in their family or knows someone that is a veteran.”

Principal Dr. Michele Dowell presented awards to winners of Veterans Day-themed poetry and poster contests. A Veterans Garden was dedicated.

“It has really been overwhelming, the things we hear from the veterans that attend the program,” Forte said. “We had one parent that said, ‘no one ever told my dad thank you until today.' He had tears in his eyes when he was able to participate in the events.

“We believe that we're one community and that we have to do things for one another. That's why we started the Veterans Garden.

“Community groups have gotten involved and veterans have asked us how they can help. It's just our way of showing thanks.”

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2667.

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